Antarctic ice melting faster

The rate of Antarctic melting has nearly tripled in the last five years

The melt rate has tripled in the past decade, the study concluded.

Enlarge / Changes in Antarctica's ice since 1992, shown for three regions and in total.

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The study is the product of a large group of Antarctic experts who collectively reviewed 24 recent measurements of Antarctic ice loss, reconciling their differences to produce the most definitive figures yet on changes in Antarctica.

For the new study, the scientists combined data from three types of satellite measurements to track changes in ice over time, study co-author Andrew Shepherd, a professor of Earth observation with the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, told Live Science.

There have been many other estimates of how much ice has melted in Antarctica. The lead author was Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.

"The detailed record shows an acceleration, starting around 2002, " said Beata Csatho, one of the study authors and a glaciologist at the State University of NY at Buffalo, in an email.

Antarctica has lost 3 trillion tons of ice in the past 25 years, and that ice loss has accelerated rapidly over the last five years. "Actually, if you compare 1997-2002 to 2012-2017, the increase is even larger, a factor of more than 5!"

Jumping straight to that result, IMBIE finds that Antarctica lost 2,720 ± 1,390 gigatons of ice in that time period-enough to raise global sea level 7.6 millimeters on its own.

The researchers attribute the increased losses in West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsular to changes in regional floating-ice shelves, which can provide a buffer to continental-ice sheets.

West Antarctica contributed the most ice loss from the continent, shedding almost 160 billion tonnes each year since 2012.

Pine Island is now losing about 45 billion tons per year, and Thwaites is losing 50 billion. Shepherd says until 2010, the data had been tracking a lower scenario which estimated that Antarctica "wouldn't make much of a contribution to sea level rise at all" because of the effects of higher snowfall. But elsewhere, Antarctic ice has been falling into the ocean rapidly, and the outlook is for more of the same.

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While the current ice loss measured is literally a drop in the ocean compared to Antartica's catastrophic potential to raise global sea level by as much as 58 metres (190 ft) if the ice sheets were to completely melt, the apparent acceleration in the latest satellite observations is enough to have scientists duly anxious.

East Antarctica, which is home to the South Pole, has seen considerably less melting because most of its ice is above sea level.

Even more grim, a half-century of high emissions by this point would have locked in more than 10 metres (33 ft) of future sea level rise in coming millennia - and could potentially lead to more than 50 metres of sea level rise over the next 10,000 years.

"According to our analysis, there has been a step increase in ice losses from Antarctica during the past decade, and the continent is causing sea levels to rise faster today than at any time in the past 25 years".

"We can not count on East Antarctica to be the quiet player, and we start to observe change there in some sectors that have potential and they're vulnerable, " said Velicogna.

Although the general trend was of reduction, there was some increase in ice cover in East Antarctica.

Per the team's calculations, a high emissions scenario - in which carbon emissions rise unabated and environmental protections in Antarctica are not implemented - global air temperature would rise almost 3.5°C above 1850 levels by 2070, with sea level rise averaging somewhere between 10-15 mm every year.

That's adding 0.6 of a millimetre to sea levels each year.

Granted, there's no proof the current rate of change in Antarctica will continue.

The changes will not be steady, in any case, said Knut Christianson, an Antarctic researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle, by email. "We will not necessarily see exclusively rapid retreat, " said Christianson, noting that as glaciers like Pine Island retreat backwards down a submarine, downhill slope, they will sometimes encounter bumps that slow down their movement. However, he says that now the data is tracking a higher scenario, which could mean almost 6 inches of additional sea level rise in the next century.

That's because as Antarctica's mass shrinks, the ice sheet's gravitational pull on the ocean relaxes somewhat, and the seas travel back across the globe to pile up far away - with USA coasts being one prime destination.

"There's still a wide range in projections between what is going to happen in Antarctica in the future". Together, the studies evaluate past and present conditions in Antarctica to determine the impact of climate change and human activity on the continent, and to present strategies for the future of its ecology and geology.

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